The philosopher George Santayana said those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. In India's case the aphorism is particularly apropos. How else does one react to the headlines and outpouring of popular sentiment in favour of inviting the multi-titled leader of Pakistan?
'Cricket Wins, Musharraf is Coming' blared the headline in a leading English language daily. With barely concealed glee, the report heartily endorsed the prime minister's decision to extend an invitation to the Pakistani strongman to visit India for the ongoing cricket series. More unsubtle was an editorial in another broadsheet headlined 'Invite the General.' The worthies at the paper's editorial board seemed to be of the opinion that this is all about cricket and that there are other venues for pursuing diplomacy. While the latter may be the case, sporting instincts are clearly not behind the general's desire to visit India.
Each time Indian policy makers seem convinced of the 'innocuousness' of requests from Pakistani generals they are rewarded with a mix of terrorism and diplomatic chicanery. That cricket diplomacy is an oxymoron in India-Pakistan relations is borne out by what happened in 1987 when Zia-ul Haq flew in ostensibly to watch cricket. What followed was the brutal proxy war in Kashmir. All too often, Indian policy makers and opinion writers go weak-kneed and mouth inanities such as 'shared values and a common heritage' when it comes to dealing with the many duplicitous leaders who have led that unfortunate country since 1947.
The ability to suspend judgement (repeatedly) while dealing with Pakistani strongmen has been the bane of Indian leadership. It is an affliction that is particularly true for Indian leaders from the north who once had roots across the border. A wag from the Indian Foreign Service once remarked that allowing leaders of that generation to negotiate with Pakistan on just about any issue is a lose-lose situation for India.
Contrary to the assumptions of the ministry of external affairs and those leading Indian dailies, the general's visit does nothing to promote inter-people exchanges and will prove to be a substantial windfall for Musharraf.
Firstly, it is a false analogy to believe that the invitation and visit is akin to the numerous 'private' visits by other heads of state to the US. Were that the case, Fidel Castro of Cuba, a big aficionado of baseball, would be in the US repeatedly to watch the World Series. Equally unlikely is the presence of Syria's Bashar Assad at the Wireless and Mobile Summit in Florida later this year given his penchant for information technology.
Secondly, for the butcher of Kargil, recent developments in countries such as Lebanon and Ukraine do not resonate well with his notion that democracy is only selectively applicable and that its practitioners in Pakistan are unsuited for office. Musharraf has been able to contain calls, few as they have been, from his Western benefactors for democracy with familiar, yet historically false, responses that conjures up a doomsday scenario.
Images of a volatile mix of barbaric religious fundamentalists and corrupt politicians with the keys to Pakistan's ill-gotten nuclear arsenal seem sufficient to still the resolve of the few American politicians willing to query continued patronisation of a state that ought to be an international pariah and a failed state.
On that last point, it is at times wonderful to speculate on 'might have beens.'Had President Clinton's team responded to supposed overtures from the Sudanese government on 'handing over' Osama bin Laden in 1996, the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan would have been considerably circumscribed. Limited to Pakistani largesse and manipulation, Afghanistan may have been worse off but US attention and aid would never have been forthcoming to Pakistan.
Indeed, only a mere five years ago, President Clinton became the first US president to not only give the Pakistani leadership short shrift but his administration was on the verge of declaring Pakistan a 'failed State.' It is hard not to wonder about the many benefits that would have accrued to India and the larger civilised world under that dispensation.
Today, despite the oft-touted 'drop' in terrorist crossings there has been little respite in the savagery enacted by the jihadis in Kashmir or in espionage activity in India. Underscoring the latter, even as millions started watching the first test, a Pakistani spy was arrested in Delhi in flagrante delicto while making a call to his mentors in Pakistan. As the British are wont to say that's 'simply not cricket.' But whoever said this was about a game?